Followers of God.
Numbers 9-10, Luke 20
In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud lifted from over the tabernacle of the testimony, and the people of Israel set out by stages from the wilderness of Sinai. And the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran. – Numbers 10:11-12 ESV
God led His people. From the moment He set them free from captivity in Egypt, He had directed their path. He had gone before them, guiding their every step along the way and providing for their every need. But they had to follow. They couldn’t veer to the right or the left. They couldn’t go off in another direction. If they did, they would suffer the consequences. God’s leadership required faithful followers. It reminds me of the chorus of the classic old hymn, Where He Leads Me I Will Follow. It simply says, “Where He leads me I will follow; I’ll go with Him, with Him, all the way.” The people of Israel had spent nearly a year camped at the base of Mount Sinai. During that time, God had given them His law and provided them with the construction plans for the Tabernacle. He had given them the sacrificial system in order to provide a means of atoning for and receiving forgiveness for their sins. There at Mount Sinai they enjoyed God’s presence and provision, but Mount Sinai was not their final destination. They were not where God wanted them to be. So “In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud lifted from over the tabernacle of the testimony, and the people of Israel set out by stages from the wilderness of Sinai. And the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran” (Numbers 10:11-12 ESV). God led and the people followed.
What does this passage reveal about God?
God had a purpose behind everything He did. In order to get the people of Israel all the way through the wilderness, He knew it was going to require much more than which direction to go. He could lead them, and they could follow – but they would have to follow according to His terms. Their following would have to include faithful obedience to His righteous rules and divine requirement. They would have to follow obediently. God could have miraculously taken them straight to the Promised Land. He could have eliminated the need for the journey altogether, but instead, He took His time. He gave them rules of conduct. He painstakingly provided them with instructions as to how they were to live as they followed Him. The wilderness wanderings were going to be a time of testing, to see if they would live set-apart lives, faithfully following God’s prescribed plan for His people. God didn’t just expect the people to follow, but to do so faithfully. In other words, they had to follow according to His terms. They had to keep His laws. They had to celebrate His festivals. They had to keep the Sabbath. They had to regularly sacrifice for their sins. They had to deal with impurity in their midst. Their journey from Mount Sinai to the land of Canaan was to be marked by obedience. God’s leading was going to require the people’s faithful adherence to His commands.
What does this passage reveal about man?
From our vantage point this side of the cross, it is sometimes easy to look back at the Israelites and wonder how they could have been so slow to realize just how good they had it. They seem slow to comprehend just how blessed they were to have God’s actual presence living among them. They got to see incredible miracles and witness amazing acts of provision, such as manna that came from the sky and water that flowed from a rock. They wore sandals and clothes that never wore out. But in spite of all this, they continued to disobey Him by disregarding His commands. The psalmist writes, “How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness, and insulted him in the desert! They again challenged God,and offended the Holy One of Israel” (Psalm 78:40-41 ESV). But before we point our fingers in accusation and derision, we need to realize that their story is far too often our story. We find ourselves on a journey. We are walking through this life, headed to another “land” that God has promised to give us. He has chosen us as His own. He has given us the indwelling presence of His Spirit. He leads and directs us. He speaks to us through His Word. He has called us to live lives that reflect our unique standing as His children. He has called us to live holy lives. And yet, we struggle with faithfulness. “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV).
For the Israelites, Mount Sinai held special meaning. It was there that they received God’s law. It was there that they were given His plan for the sacrificial system and the hope of atonement for sin. But they were not meant to stay there. They had to move on. They were on their way to somewhere else. For many of us as Christians, we bask in the glory of our salvation story. We camp on that day we placed our faith in Jesus Christ as our personal Savior and remain content to dwell on that special moment as the most significant day of our lives. But we must move on. We must recognize the fact that our salvation is the beginning, not the end. There is life to be lived – in Christ. He is to followed, not just believed in. Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24 ESV). There is a cost and commitment to following Christ. It is a daily event that requires faithful obedience to His will and His way.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
Jesus had many followers when He walked this earth. But when things got tough, and they discovered that His journey was going to include suffering and even death, the majority of those who had been following fled. Believing in Christ is easy. Following Him is difficult and sometimes risky. His disciples would learn this. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were thought to be faithful followers of God. But they were repeatedly condemned by Jesus for their hypocrisy and self-righteousness. He compared them to their ancestors who had killed the prophets of God because they didn’t want to hear the message of God. These men were followers of God in name only. They lived by their own set of standards. They put on a facade of faithfulness, but were actually blind to the will of God for their lives. Highly knowledgeable of God’s Scriptures, they were unable to recognize the Son of God standing in their midst. And they refused to acknowledge Him as their Messiah and Savior.
Following is not easy, especially when we are prone to going our own way. Even after salvation, we are constantly tempted to take our lives into our own hands and determine our own destiny. But God has a plan for our lives. He has a path for each of us to take. We are on a journey from salvation to our ultimate glorification. Heaven is our ultimate home. But we find ourselves wandering through this wilderness called earth. We have been given an inheritance that includes a permanent home in His heavenly Kingdom. But in the meantime, we are living in what Paul Tripp calls “the gospel gap.” Our salvation is in our past. Heaven is in our future. And we live in that in-between time where our sanctification takes place. We are in the process of being transformed into the image of Christ as we faithfully follow His example of love, obedience, humility and service. It is on this planet that we are to live out our salvation in tangible, practical ways that emulate the nature of Christ by allowing the indwelling Spirit of God to powerfully flow through us, producing a lifestyle that is radically different than the world around us. Our following of Christ is to result in our reflection of Christ to the world around us. It is as we walk with Him, living in obedience to Him, that we become increasingly more like Him.
All of this reminds me of another great hymn from my past: Footprints of Jesus
- Sweetly, Lord, have we heard Thee calling,
Come, follow Me!
And we see where Thy footprints falling
Lead us to Thee.
Footprints of Jesus,
That make the pathway glow;
We will follow the steps of Jesus
Where’er they go.
- Though they lead o’er the cold, dark mountains,
Seeking His sheep;
Or along by Siloam’s fountains,
Helping the weak.
- If they lead through the temple holy,
Preaching the Word;
Or in homes of the poor and lowly,
Serving the Lord.
- Though, dear Lord, in Thy pathway keeping,
We follow Thee;
Through the gloom of that place of weeping,
- If Thy way and its sorrows bearing,
We go again,
Up the slope of the hillside, bearing
Our cross of pain.
- By and by, through the shining portals,
Turning our feet,
We shall walk, with the glad immortals,
Heav’n’s golden street.
- Then, at last, when on high He sees us,
Our journey done,
We will rest where the steps of Jesus
End at His throne.
Father, I want to follow You faithfully. I want to live a life that reflects the character of Christ. I want my walk to match my talk. And it all begins in my heart. I can fake following you, but You know my heart. I can go through the motions, and fool those around me, but You know what is really going on inside of me. Help me to die to self and live for You. I want to daily take up my cross and die to my will and my way, so that I might more faithfully walk according to Your way. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men